Games for Christmas 2011

New and alternative board game ideas for this Christmas
Presents under the Christmas tree - maybe they are games?!

As the pressure builds towards the Christmas and New Year bank holidays many people will start thinking about what game to buy for Christmas. Having played some brilliant games this year with people representing a broad cross-section of society from primary children to people in care homes (and every point in between) I thought it might be worth highlighting some of my favourites from this year. I have broken this article into three section:
  • Games We Have Had Lot of Fun With During 2011
  • Alternatives To The Perennial Favourites
  • Where To Buy The Games In This Article
And it maybe that an article written earlier this year may be of interest on Why Games Work in Some Families and Not Others.

A common factor amongst the games in this article is they generally seek to emphasise social interplay, maybe a touch of strategy, more skill than luck, short playing times and rarely have player elimination.

Games We Have Had Lot of Fun With During 2011
These games are not necessarily games that have been released this year but they are games that I have seen being enjoyed by many different people and or caused a lot of laughter when we have played them.

Fuchs and Fertig
This is a late entry being a game I brought back from Essen 2011. It can be played in 5-10 minutes takes up little or no space, works well with every age group, as long as the teenagers don’t go ‘I’m too cool for this’! Essentially it is a push your luck memory game that will have players frustrated and delighted in equal measure. Everybody we have put it in front of has really enjoyed this quick card game about a fox and his woodland friends. A full review can be seen here.

Another late entry and a game where a group of adventurers are chased by a rhino whilst trying to avoid piles of elephant dung. With the artwork it is likely to immediately appeal to children but if this doesn’t put you off it is a game (there are some tactics to it) with about a 40 minute playing time that will bring a lot of smiles and humor to any table over Christmas. It also has the advantage of being playable by 7 players. My review of Kalimambo can be read here.

Hey! That’s My Fish
In my view this one is only really only worth buying if you go for the deluxe edition that comes with some superb surfing penguins. The game sees players, in the form of their team of penguins, munching their way through the frozen tiles of fish that make up the “ice flow” games board. As the fish get eaten so the ice flow shrinks. This is a board game with some great components that children, not surprisingly, love but which actually offers a more tactical game than might be obvious at first.

Army Of Frogs
Another child like game but again one that can involve a lot of tactics; with its hard wearing plastic (almost marble) frogs it is a game that can be played anywhere. So whether you find yourself skiing or sitting in a beach or at a table by a log fire this is a game that can cope and will appeal to those looking for something with a little mental challenge but where they don’t want lots of rules and care little about beautiful graphics and colourful components.

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork
Another late entry only being released this September it has lots of player interaction, albeit mainly of the malicious kind (so may not work for everybody). A game for families relaxed about playing board games who don’t mind a game where you are called to act out of character and spread trouble and mayhem through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork. Each player takes the character (kept secret) representing one of the7 powerful political leaders of the city each with their own hidden winning conditions. We have played this game a number of times, it has always been very closely fought, fun, plays in just over the hour and has lots of replayability. My review of Discworld: Ankh Morpork can be read here.

Forbidden Island
Join a team of fearless adventurers, very much in the style of Indiana Jones, on a do-or-die mission to capture four sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise. You and your fellow players will have to work together under increasing pressure, as the island slowly (at first) starts to sink beneath your feet! You race around the Island attempting to collect the treasures and shore up the island. Only when you have all the treasures can your team make it back to the helipad and attempt to escape the island. Forbidden Island is a great introduction to modern collaborative games.

Pitch Car
This is a game that adults and children will enjoy and is pretty good from a spectator point of view. With a heavy wooden track players flick their racing cars around a track. If they knock another players car of the track they have to go back to their start position, if they flick themselves off the track they go back to where their start position. However if you get your angles right you get the elation of bouncing of a number of crash barriers and covering a significant distance on the track. Unlike all the other games mentioned it also works really well as a team game and is a game with lots of extensions.

Alternatives To The Perennial Favourites
The suggestions that follow are all games we have played and enjoyed and have to varying degrees similarities to their more well known counterparts :

Like Dominoes? Take a look at Qwirkle
Qwirkle, this year’s Spiel des Jare winner is a brilliant family game that looks good, feels good and will offer a tile laying game that grandparents will feel immediately comfortable with whilst children will enjoy just as much. Whilst not the most taxing game in this article it offers a light tactical dynamic that is ideal over a coffee and mince pies.

Like Jenga? Take a look at Bausack or Villa Palletti both of which take building to a whole new level!
Bausack mentioned in last year’s article is simply brilliant and should seriously be considered if you are looking for a tactile game that is almost as good to watch as it is to play. Our games have predominantly used the ‘Tower of Babel’ rules however the game comes with 4 different sets of rules, once again adding significantly to the replayability.

Villa Palletti is by the same publisher, Zoch, and is a Speil des Jahre (SdJ)winner from 2002. More of a structured tactile game than Bausack it never the less won the SdJ accolade in 2002 because it is such a good family game.

Like Jigsaw Puzzles? Try Carcassonne
Carcassonne is a game not a jigsaw puzzle but as a tile laying game which builds into an attractive medieval landscape and as another Spiel des Jahre winner it is a superb family game that may appeal particularly to families where Jigsaw’s are popular. Depending on the group it can almost be collaborative but is equally good as a two player game were the competitive dynamic will be more obvious.

Like Monoploly? For Sale, Last Will or Bohnanza are all less attritional; no one is excluded before the game end.
For Sale is a game of two parts. Firstly players build a portfolio of properties and then they seek to sell them. The winner being the player who ends the game with the greatest monetary value. It may sound a little dull but the artwork is amusing with properties ranging from a Cardboard Box or a Dunny at one extreme to palatial mansions and even a Space Station at the other. With a game time of around half an hour and no player exclusion it delivers the property theme in an engaging and enjoyable way without the tension that so often surrounds Monopoly.

Last Will is another new game from Essen 2011 and offers players the inverse of Monopoly in that in this humorous take on Victorian reality the aim is to lose a set amount of money as fast as possible. It is a more thoughtful game than many of the others on this year’s list and offers players lots of choices that they will need to balance and no single clear way to win. It has evocative artwork, no random luck caused by the throwing of a dice, stimulating game play, no player exclusion and a playing time between 1hr-1½ hours. If you are looking for something a little more testing then this excellent game from CGE is worth considering. My detailed review can be found here.

Bohnanza offers a trading card game on the theme of being a bean farmer with amusing cards and a game that calls for almost constant negotiation between the players. This is another game that has proven hugely popular with our group of Social Gamers because of the strong interplay between the various players. There cannot be many games were you can relax when you hear the cry ‘I will give you a black eye!’(Black Eyed beans are one of the many bean types in this excellent card game.)

Like Pictionary? You might also like Pictomania or Identik

Pictomania is a game released this year by the Czech games publisher CGE. With categories in the box that will work with ages from 9 (and we played it with two 7 year olds who really enjoyed it) to 99. There are a number of cards placed in the centre of the table each with 7 words on them. Each player has to draw one word whilst simultaneously trying to guess what the other players are drawing. Pictomiania takes the drawing theme found in Pictionary into much more of a game. My review of Pictomania can be read here.

Identik is an older game but again little known in the UK, where one player has a minute to describe an image on a card whilst the other players have to draw what they hear (they cannot see the image). When the time has expired then the drawings are marked against 10 criteria. This game has proved popular with a teenage family we know well and is as much about communication skills as it is drawing.

Like Risk? Try Kingdom Builder
Kingdom Builder is a territory building game for 2 to 4 players aged 6+ (!) with a variable board that is set in a vaguely medieval setting that will play within an 45 mins to 1 hour . With its high quality components and with its variable setup using 4 of 8 game boards, 4 of 8 Special Action Cards and 3 of 10 Kingdom Cards it is a game with bags of replayability. Add this to simple rules and fast game play and I think it would offer families an interesting alternative to one of the classic games.

Like Sudoko? Try a new challenge – Take It Easy
Take It Easy! Offers a game that can be played solo or with up to 6 that whilst having a strong mathematical theme is a bit of a puzzle, simple to understand and can be played at a number of levels. The aims to create lines of continuous colour across the hexagonal game board with each colour being worth a number of points between 1 and 9 and completed lines being worth a multiple based on the length of the line. With younger children you can convert this times table dimension to a completed line being worth the colours number rather than a multiple. Interestingly it was at the top of the list for one of our 6 year old relatives last Christmas. This is another game we feel can be enjoyed over a coffee or a glass of mulled wine.

Like Yahtzee? Consider Roll Through The Ages: The Bronze Age
If you like throwing dice and ticking off the results on a sheet of paper then maybe Roll Through The Ages: The Bronze Age may appeal. With its polished wooden boards (1 per player) dice (7) and score pad it is a game that has a very similar feel to Yahtzee but instead of ticking off number combinations you have a dice per city and gain trade goods and raw materials allowing you to build more cities, monuments and acquire civilization. It plays differently every time and is a game we have played many times over a coffee break; it is one we feel works particularly well with 2 players.

Where to Buy The Games In This Article
This falls into three distinct categories depending on how much effort you want to expend.

1. Specialist Internet Games Suppliers
These are people whose full time job is involved with games and so if you want to talk through alternatives then these guys have the experience and expertise to help.

I could have listed many but will limit myself to three (I am not on commission):

Imagination Gaming
Nigel and Chris are specialists in games that work with non gamers and that can be taught in seconds. If they don’t answer the phone immediately it is because they are in a school using games as a tool working with children of all abilities.

Paul and David have a wide selection of games suitable for all ages and interests.

Paul offers many of the same games as GamesLore but with a stronger focus on gamer’s games, often imported from Europe and the US.

2. Games Stores on the High Street
There are specialist games shops out there albeit not many but a list can be found here. They may not always have the games mentioned here and depending on their focus may be focused more on ‘gamers’ than families / social gamers, but would always be worth talking to.

WH Smith and Waterstones
Both of these stores carry some of the more expensive modern games at Christmas including a number of Spiel des Jahre winners.

The Works
This is a discount store which over the last few months has started carrying some excellent board games (at heavily discounted prices) alongside some that are not so good. Many of the games they stock have not been mentioned in this article but maybe worth considering. If you are tempted then check out the games on for a descriptions; reviews can be found under the Forum section on each game and broadly if the games has a score of 6 + it’s an OK game and a 7 is a good game.

3. Amazon
Many of the games mentioned here can be obtained via Amazon. I wouldn’t encourage you to use this channel but I do understand why people use it….simplicity, single point for multiple related items and cost.

If you have read this far and are curious to read more and or still looking for something slightly different then try:

Games for Christmas 2010 on this blog


Boardgamegeeks Board Game Gift Guide 2011


The BoardGameFamily - Game Gift Guide 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment